When Baltimore is throwing: It’s anyone’s guess if Cam opens up the playbook and if he tries to feed the ball to Boldin. When Boldin was in Arizona, they made occasional efforts to do that and they didn’t often win but that was because they were a bad football team. His ability to break tackles to get the first down can be just as disheartening and crowd-quieting as running the ball down their throats. The passing game has been up and down all year. Even with a 13-game stretch averaging 105.1 QB rating for Flacco, they had issues on third down and punting on sometimes 3 or more consecutive drives. Cam is coaching for his job and Joe feels kind of like Ben Roethlisberger did after their first Super Bowl win: he wants to play better in the playoff wins. The Chiefs have only one pass-rusher, Tamba Hali (14.5 sacks; tops in the AFC), to speak of and only one corner – Brandon Flowers – who’s pretty good. It’s an issue of too much youth on the Kansas City defense (Eric Berry and Kendrick Lewis are rookies) going up against too much experience, anger and desperation on the Baltimore offense. Edge: Baltimore.
When Baltimore is running: All year long, the O-line has been injured and shuffled and didn’t get it going until the 14th and 15th games of the year. I expect an inspired effort against a Kansas City run defense that has struggled against good running backs. Edge: Baltimore.
When Kansas City is throwing: This will be the first game in which the Ravens have had Gooden, Zbikowski, Ellerbe, and Ed Reed at their deployment. While that could lead to some adjustments in-game, I’ve felt like the pass defense has suffered from a lack of options. That being said, the Ravens allowed a 76.4 QB rating this year. I expect them – especially since Jarret Johnson and Ed Reed are the healthiest they’ve been all year – to shut down the Chiefs’ passing attack. It will have to take someone other than Dwayne Bowe stepping up. Edge: Baltimore.
When Kansas City is running: The only factor that will matter on defense is the blitzing in the red zone. The Ravens are one of the best red zone defenses and – for all the talk about “best running game” – the Chiefs only ran for 13 touchdowns this year. The Ravens will be stout and aggressive in the red zone, but if they blitz, they need to get there immediately and bat the ball or stop them for a loss. The Chiefs might still get some yardage all the way to the 20. Edge: even.
PREDICTION: Now that Matt Hasselbeck is playing for the Seahawks, I think this is the only slam dunk pick and it was already easier to pick than the N’Awlins-Seattle. The Ravens’ physicality, experience, and talent will be enough to win this one. Their red zone defense will probably force a 4th down failure and 1 field goal. Special teams could be a factor, especially if David Reed plays and makes it two different players on the field who’ve returned one for a score this year (Dexter McCluster did as well). For the next round, my fear is that the Ravens lose a game 10-7 or 14-10 where the defensive playmakers are put in position to make plays but the offensive players other than Rice won’t be. Ravens 24, Chiefs 13.